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Hipster Librarians in the North Star State, Sort of

I expected it in Brooklyn, and even in California, but I never expected hip, stereotype shattering librarians to finally arrive in Minnesota, even if they’re not really librarians.

This article has to be the most painful example of the hip librarian genre that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them all. It profiles a number of library workers who all seem perfectly nice and manages to induce cringes with just about every line.

Like a number of these articles, it exposes as much about the prejudices and ignorance of the writer as it does information about the subject.

Even the headline is misleading: “Moorhead’s new generation breaking librarian stereotype.”

The main problem with the headline is that the people being profiled aren’t librarians, as the writer admits while continuing to call them librarians. What, weren’t there any actual professional librarians “breaking stereotypes”?

One of the profiled library workers is supposedly “one of a handful of 20-somethings working at the library who are anything but the typical gray-haired, bespectacled, patron-shushing librarians – although, admittedly, several of them have the type of dark-framed glasses that might suggest such a future of shushing.”

There’s a shift in adjective here. Before, the “librarians” were breaking “stereotypes,” but here we are told that a group of 20-somethings are anything but “typical” librarians – gray-haired, bespectacled, and shushing. So this is now typical, not stereotypical?

Well, it would be news if 20-something women had a lot of gray hair, so that’s hardly surprising. But when was the last time you heard a librarian shushing anyone? Why not come out and admit that you have no idea what goes on in libraries these days?

And what’s with the obsession with “dark-framed glasses”? How would that suggest a future of shushing, except in the fantasies of the writer? Get a load of this:

“She removed her dark-framed glasses and shook her hair from its bun, transforming herself from mere librarian to sexy goddess. I flinched slightly and began to protest as she moved her hand down my chest, but despite her lush transformation she still shushed me firmly.”

Okay, that’s not in the article, but it could have been.

Dark glasses make another appearance. “Wearing her own dark-framed glasses, Sievert majored in global studies and Spanish at Concordia, perhaps not what you’d expect of a librarian.”

Since the article is so condescending to librarians, I’ll be rude and point out what an execrable sentence it is. I found the dangling participle amusing, and pictured Sievert majoring in global studies while wearing her own dark-framed glasses.” It would have been even more amusing had she been wearing someone else’s.

I was also amused by the assumption that majoring in global studies and Spanish is “perhaps not what you’d expect of a librarian.” That’s exactly the sort of thing I’d expect! What else is someone going to do with a major in global studies except become a librarian? Obviously this was written by someone who’s never met many librarians.

The same with this ridiculous line: “At libraries across the nation a new generation of hip, young, college-educated young adults …are replacing the ranks of older librarians nearing retirement, bringing with them a fresh understanding of technology into an industry that’s adapting to our digital age.”

Good grief. Hip? Really? These young women don’t seem insufferably shallow to me, so I doubt they’re “hip.” Young? Well, they’d kind of have to be younger than people retiring, most of whom were also young once upon a time.

Oh, and they’re college-educated. It’s a good thing we’re finally getting some college graduates into the ranks of professional librarianship. And about time, too! I’m tired of all these librarians who took the GED and then went straight to library school.

A “fresh understanding of technology” is good, too. It’ll be nice to toss out those old coots who have been working in libraries for the past few decades, with their hair buns and their typewriters, and get some real techies for a change, some “digital natives” who can show older librarians how this newfangled technology works.

Like what, you might ask? Apparently, “technology, especially eBooks and eReaders,” has become a big part of library work.

Those ebooks and ereaders are pretty difficult to figure out, which is why Amazon has had such a hard time selling them to the masses. If only they were simple enough for ordinary people to understand! At least for now we have librarians who have mastered that sophisticated technology.

I was trying to figure out what motivated this ridiculous article, given the profound ignorance of contemporary libraries and librarians. By the end of the article, I have my suspicions that only locals can confirm.

We find out that librarians pick up odd tidbits of information while helping people learn about things. Like, when helping a student “learn about hippopotamuses, a little searching uncovered that President Calvin Coolidge actually once owned one of the animals,” which is actually information about Coolidge rather than about hippopotamuses, but so be it.

And what good are these tidbits of information? They’re good for trivia contests, of course!

“And after they pick up such random information during the course of their work, these library workers, who have bonded beyond the library, put it to use Monday nights during trivia contests at Rhombus Guys in Fargo.”

Something tells me this article came about because the author and his buddies got their butts kicked by six young women with “dark-framed glasses” and tried to figure out why a bunch of young women knew so much more than he did.

Or maybe he was just excited by “dark-framed glasses,” because the condescension is pretty thick here: “With a team of six, the group of aspiring librarians often places in the top three spots of these trivia challenges, proving that today’s breed of librarians knows a little bit more than just the Dewey Decimal System or classic literature.”

I’ll be honest. I’ve never met any librarians from Moorhead, MN, but in my experience if “today’s breed of librarians” knows only a “little bit more” than the Dewey Decimal System or classic literature, then they know considerably less than some previous “breeds” of librarians.

What started as a profile of some nice, smart young women working in libraries turned into an obnoxious, condescending article revealing more about the author’s own prejudices than anything about librarians.

Tis’ a pity.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Maybe we could do a counterpoint about the author.

    “Condescending blowhard blissfully unaware his industry is dying around him”

    “Writer frames entire article around stereotype he saw in It’s A Wonderful Life twenty years ago”

    “Newsman reveals lurid librarian fantasy between the lines of purple prose”

    Anyone else out there got any good ones?

    • not a hipster librarian says:

      Oh my, I’m in love with the idea of writing a spoof about reporters. “Walk in to your local newsroom and you might expect to see young, eager reporters scribbling away furiously with their Dixon Ticonderoga #2 or frantically typing the lead for their next big article on their trusty typewriter. You might be surprised to find out that today’s reporter is more likely to use Adobe Illustrator than a pica ruler to lay out a newspaper page….”

  2. will manley says:

    AL…I love the whole notion of a hipster librarian…as long as they are more James Dean than Fonzi. Seems to me that all of the hipster librarians I have met are Fonzis. Is there anything more pathetic than a faux hipster pink haired and purple tattooed librarian? I have nothing against pink hair and purple tattoos as long as you don’t associate it with hipsterdom. It’s a fashion choice not a professional badge. I would love to meet the real thing…a real hipster librarian. Are there any true hipster librarians out there? I lead a very sheltered life. I can see why a hipster would want to work in a library. Libraries have the potential to be very counter cultural but unfortunately we tend to go with the mainstream flow (ebooks anyone?) and so we tend to be the opposite of countercultural and what hipster wants that? Not me.

    • Will – I too find the counter-cultural hip.

      In my vision of a Library Renaissance, library staff recognize their ‘power’ in this regard and realize they can help lead trends instead of frantically trying to follow ‘em.

    • Walt Lessun says:

      Not a hipster. More a neo-beat generation

    • not a hipster librarian says:

      Will, you should know that amongst us young’uns, “hipster” is a derogatory term so you won’t have anyone standing up and admitting they’re a hipster librarian.

  3. me says:

    This article made me want to throw up.

  4. A public radio station in San Francisco profiled Sara Houghton yesterday and the coverage, which cited her many activities and accomplishments began with 2 short paragraphs of the same tired references to how she’s not the stereotypical librarian.

    Anyone care to speculate why this is so pervasive?

  5. will manley says:

    Jean, people basically like to stereotype. It’s a way to try to bring order and control to a chaotic world. In particular city managers and city councils like the concept of the quiet, mousey librarian who will not make demands on the public treasury. Sara is not a quiet, mousey librarian. She’s outspoken and demanding and so she dramatically breaks the stereotype and makes news. Good for Sara. We need more fearless leaders like her to get our fair share of the pie.

    • Good point – some people are invested in the stereotype because it serves their purposes. Is this true within the library community, or mostly outside it?

      Also, the library community has been actively trying to dispel the stereotype for decades. The ALA began its campaign to do so in 1970 and this remains a point of angst and hot topic for many librarians today. What do you think the library community’s role has been in perpetuating the s-type or failing to dispel it?

  6. will manley says:

    Jean, I really think it comes down to role models like Sara. The more media exposure she gets the more that young people will see opportunities in the library profession that they may not have seen before. Stereotype busting happens through individual actions not organizational resolutions. You cannot legislate your professional brand; you have to act it. The biggest problem within the library profession is the peer pressure it exerts to motivate its members to conform to a tightly held set of norms. That is why blogs like The Annoyed Librarian are so important. They reveal the silliness behind many of our norms and encourage librarians to think independently.

  7. not a hipster librarian says:

    I’ve gotten a few interviews from media sources and in the future I’ll make a point of saying something casual about this issue like, “This isn’t going to be one of those articles where you start by saying ‘Librarians, they’re not what they used to be,” and then go on by describing an old woman with a bun and glassses, is it?”

    • Not a hipster – this is one tact I was thinking of when I asked what role the library community plays in not dispelling the s-type. The media folk may not realize how cliche those introductions are …

      Your approach to deliver the line casually and then demonstrate your professionalism, sense of humor, etc during the interview might go a long way …

  8. Public Library says:

    This article explains why so many librarians trash their professions. Every article about a librarian discusses their clothing and appearance. I’ve read articles about biochemists, archaeologists, and veterinarians, and the author does not discuss how the person being profiled is dressed. It just discusses their accomplishments. Until the library profession moves away its obsession with age and clothing, even its own members won’t take it seriously.

  9. joyce says:

    First, I would like to say you would have a career as a romance writer. Second, unlike many of your articles which cause steam to evaporate from my ears, I was actually laughing. However, if you know any old librarians who want to be replaced I’d love to have the name and number of their employer….

  10. you reminded me; I want to make a shirt that says, “when I shush, you’d best stay shushed.”

  11. elena schneider says:

    yay Minnesota!

  12. Larry Schwartz says:

    My letter to the editor in response to this article was published a couple of days later. It’s not available for free anymore; I started out by calling it cliched and hackneyed and noted that, like all reporters depicted in the movies, it was obvious that this reporter was drunk when he wrote it. It felt very good.

  13. Lin says:

    Seriously, who cares. I have worked at a library for several years with both young and old coworkers and the young ones are just as cranky and self-important as the older ones. The majority of librarians, in my experience, overestimate their importance and their intelligence…just a bunch of humanities and social science majors who settled on working at a library because their worthless degree couldn’t get them a better job. This “annoyed librarian” (really is there any other kind) obviously doesn’t have a very difficult job if he/she has nothing better to do than get pissed about an innocent article and over-analyze it. Seriously, get over yourself and get a life.

  14. UGH says:

    STUPID ARTICLE!